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Since 1846. Ingredients: water, alcohol, and natural flavors from herbs and roots of the genus gentiana. Sehr gut!
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Seems like a good week to write a healthcare column. So what if I told you I know of a wonderful little potion which aids digestion and cures hangover, headache, upset stomach, malaise, and fatigue? Would you believe me? Buy it from me? Send me packing to the next town? Elect me president?

While its myriad healing properties are almost certainly provided by an enthusiastic placebo effect rather than its potent herbal goodness, Underberg is a thrillingly eccentric little beverage that has found a ritualistic niche in our home. We offer it to guests after meals, toast our victories, defeats, and simply drink it as a pick-me up on our way out the door sometimes. Em uses it to settle her stomach and prevent nascent headaches. I particularly enjoy serving it to uninitiated guests while offering vague references as to its origins and health benefits.

Its charming curiosity begins with the bottle, 20ml, wrapped in brown paper, with a classically styled green and white label, looking for all the world like Rick Moranis zapped a case of German beer with his shrink ray (… Honey, I Shrunk The Kegs?). Tearing away the paper reveals a tiny, green cap. Save these — there are prizes if you collect enough of them. Should you be sharing the experience with a friend, there is a pleasing, glassy click when the miniature bottlenecks tap together. Prost!



Since the entire bottle is proportional to a regular sized one, the neck is pretty narrow and it actually takes about as long to drain it as it would for a regular beer bottle. For dignity’s sake, just hold still until the bottle finishes draining into your mouth lest you prompt unsavory remarks about how you appear to be pleasuring an elf. The flavor is intense — Underberg is 1.3% herbal extract by weight which is … a lot. It’s about like drinking from a bottle of bitters which is unsurprising because that’s pretty much exactly what you are doing — just a few drops of this stuff could flavor a cocktail.

Swallow and the real fun begins. There is a sort of warm wash of sensation as the liquid creates a sensory map of the tubing running from mouth to gut, which expands outward into the stomach, rendering a feeling I can only describe as suddenly becoming aware that a small river delta has sprung into existence in your mid-thorax. After this, the miniature thunderstorm begins. Little shots of herby energy ricochet around the ribcage like so much tiny lightning. It is very enjoyable to observe the confused twitching that sometimes affects the faces and limbs of first-time partakers at this stage.

Finally, about 10 seconds later, the electric sensation subsides to a pleasantly energetic hum. Headaches ease, overstuffed tummies relax and stop churning, and people who were reclining quietly at the table in a post-brunch laze are now standing in the middle of the living room shifting from foot to foot, eyes ever-so-slightly dilated. It’s good stuff.



Some liquor stores in DC probably sell it but the most reliable source I have found is Amazon, where you can find it for $1-2 a bottle. Every so often you’ll see a bandolier of them hanging above a bar (yes, an actual, leather bandolier), so maybe you can buy one that way too — I’ve never asked. If you go to Amazon, I’d start with a twelve pack so you give it a few tries before deciding whether or not it’s for you. Not sure what else I can say other than: I highly recommend it.

That’s all for this week. Drink well.

-Chris

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